MUMBAI, India – In a ceremony lasting over two hours, Archbishop Felix Toppo was installed as the new Archbishop of Ranchi in St. Mary’s Cathedral on Monday.
Ranchi is the capital of the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand.
The state has a large proportion of India’s marginalized tribal people, who exist outside of Hinduism’s traditional caste system, and many of them become Christian – Jharkhand has a Christian population of over 4 percent, double the national average.
Toppo, a member of Pope Francis’s Jesuit order, succeeds Cardinal Telesphore Toppo – no relation – who served as archbishop of the city for over 30 years.
The cardinal was the first member of India’s tribal community to get a red hat; the new archbishop is a member of the tribal community, too.
“I reiterate my motto, which I took as bishop: ‘Thy Kingdom Come.’ The Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Love, Peace and Justice,” the new archbishop told Crux.
“Love for the poor and needy; peace between religious communities, and all categories of people and peace between the different political parties; and Justice – God has given dignity and freedom to each person, and we must protect our own dignity and freedom, and also the dignity and the freedom of others,” Toppo continued.
“It is only when one respects the rights and dignity of the other person, the dignity of the children of God is attained … Keeping attuned with my motto, my episcopal ministry in the Archdiocese of Ranchi will be to spread the Kingdom of God, working for Love, Peace and Justice,” he said.
Christians have been facing harassment in the state of Jharkhand since two women affiliated with the Missionaries of Charity, the order of nuns founded by Mother Teresa, were arrested last month after being accused of trying to sell a baby from a shelter for unwed mothers.
The alleged child-selling has drawn criticism from Hindu nationalists of the charitable work done by Christian groups in the country, which they say is done for the purpose of proselytism.
Jharkhand is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is affiliated with a Hindu nationalist group and also holds power at the national level.
The new archbishop is familiar with the situation, since he was born in the state. His previous diocese, Jamshedpur, is also in Jharkhand.
In his farewell message to the diocese, Toppo said he “would like to remind you that we are in troubled times and as responsible citizens of this great nation, it is our duty to uphold the sacred Constitution of our country,” adding Christians “need be on our guard not to let the dirty politics and selfish motives of antisocial elements permeate into our society and culture.”
Speaking to Crux, the archbishop said he sees “challenging times, in a spiritual way.”
“The Catholic Church is selflessly serving the marginalized through education and social upliftment, and the devil wants to hinder our work, but we have to be strong in faith and in the teachings of Jesus Christ, and continue working for the poor and the people,” Toppo said.
“Let us all be firm in our faith, keep our hope kindled in the Lord and spread the fragrance of charity. Let us all reaffirm with our words and deeds that we are all children of one God,” he said.